I’ve never wanted to put a bookmaker in a Cobra Clutch until last Sunday night.
After an absurdly-busy stretch of blogging about The Masters, the NCAA Final Four, the Grand National, (the folding of) the Alliance of American Football, FA Cup soccer, UEFA and CONCACAF Champions League playoffs, the NHL, and even women’s hockey, I deserved a break. A break to gamble on my own and not need to write anything down save all my of buddies’ picks.
My sportsbook assured me there would be “live” betting odds available on WrestleMania 35 – a WWE show featuring an old friend of UFC, “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey. Of course I could have placed bets right away, but it felt more fun to let everyone weigh-in at the party first.
In a nasty real-life “swerve,” there were no live odds at all. “Sorry for the inconvenience,” said a man on the betting site’s chat window. “Niche” betting just goes that way sometimes. Sportsbooks and exchanges can be flaky about keeping up with basic markets during an event that isn’t drawing heavy-enough action, even if there are 12 stand-alone outcomes, or rounds-of-play that leave time for long resets of a futures betting board.
If gambling sites can offer a daily market on the New York Yankees that changes with every pitch, they can offer bets on potential golf champions on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night during a tournament. But Las Vegas bookmakers don’t always get around to adjusting futures odds during the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. For stuff like that, it can be a better use of company resources to collect an outright-winner handle until Wednesday and call it a week.
That’s one thing that makes covering The Masters so special.
No event in golf is more anticipated on an annual basis. It’s been a long winter, and anyone interested in thawing-out and seeing the flowers bloom again is going to be tuned-in. Bets on Augusta National are placed from all over the world. If a sportsbook is silly enough to shut down all wagers on Thursday morning, that just means others will step in to take advantage and soak up the business.
Outright-winner speculating is most fun when it’s a stock market. Serious flaws in the way The Masters and other major golf championships are covered in the media can lead to weird line movement and dips/surges in betting value for Tiger, Rory, and other linksmen. This year a threat of rain will help Dustin Johnson and other long-hitters to shorter odds as wet fairways punish ordinary drives.
Rain clouds could also help to make the timing of adjusted Masters odds a little wacky, as foul conditions could cause stoppages in midst of any round. Bookies will aim to be open for business by the late PM and wee AM hours – the only times it’s certain Tiger Woods won’t be playing.
I’ll peek in on a few favorites to wear the Green Jacket in 2019, and offer some crash “course” tips on spotting a potential champion when his odds are at their longest.
But first here’s an example of how Masters media coverage can distort our image of who the contenders are following Rounds 1, 2, and 3 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
News Flash: Augusta Hosts a 72-Hole Tournament Every April
There should be a MythBusters episode about that Masters cliché, “the tournament begins on the back 9 on Sunday.” No…it doesn’t. It’s a 72-hole event. A putt missed on hole #1 can prove to be just as costly as a 3-jerk at Amen Corner.
Sure, lots of iconic players – and not-so-iconic players – have made charges on the final 9 holes on Sunday. But players rarely win if they’re 5 or 6 shots out of the lead after 63 holes. The 13th and 15th holes at Augusta National are Par 5s that struggling pro golfers tend to bogey and that the leaders tend to birdie often. Catching a group of players 4-5 strokes ahead and then going on to win means making a ton of birds, possibly an eagle or 2, and absolutely no bogeys on the inward 9.
Tiger Woods has never done it. Nick Faldo came from a million shots back to beat Greg Norman in the 90s, but Norman was already falling apart by the 62nd hole. Arnold Palmer’s greatest Sunday comeback was at the U.S. Open, not The Masters, and it happened mostly on the front 9 at Cherry Hills.
Jack Nicklaus did it in 1986, in what is remembered as the greatest Masters charge ever.
You might have thought Tiger was “charging on the back 9” on Sunday when he hit this shot at the same hole almost 2 full decades later.
But nope – in his own words, Woods “threw up” all over himself as the back 9 wound down, and needed the miracle chip shot to force a playoff that he won after regrouping. Tiger prevailed in the 2005 Masters because he had put himself in position to win over 4 rounds.
By framing tournaments as nothing but front-running leaders and dramatic charges from deep within the pack, headlines downplay the most common method of winning, which is hanging quietly around the lead for a while and then playing 36 really good holes on the weekend.
Tiger will never be undervalued when leading a major championship or anywhere close to it on Saturday night. The same can’t be said for players whose lower rung on the World Rankings causes the media to overlook the threat…and keeps betting action light. That’s when the savvy gambler can take advantage and score a low-risk, high-payoff bet slip.
Here’s where Bovada’s 2019 futures odds stand on a few likely contenders…and how the lines might move if the weather causes birdies to come in fits and starts headed into the weekend.
Odds subject to change of course…even before the tournament begins.
Rory McIlroy ((+700) Odds-to-Win U.S. Masters Championship)
Rory is having the finest stretch of success you could ask for without having prevailed more than once. Wee Mac won The Players’ Championship at Sawgrass, pulverizing the field with birdies on Thursday and Friday before settling into an unflappable rhythm on the weekend. Other than that he’s just been more consistent than any other contender on the PGA or European circuit. Rory has made 8 out of 8 cut lines, finished in the top 10 an astounding 7 times, and fought Tiger Woods in a memorable match play showdown. His driver and putter are working – the 2 most-important clubs in the bag.
I can’t see McIlroy getting too ruffled by the rain, but his daring links-style approach to drives off the tee won’t fly if balloon-balls are called for. Wet weather can turn driving into pure target golf at Augusta. Rory could easily fall back and then charge on Saturday once any delays sort themselves out, making him a potential value wager at (+1500) or (+2000) on Friday night.
Dustin Johnson (+1000)
D.J. is the perfect Augusta golfer in many respects. Massive, kingly drives and long irons ensure that even 475-yard Par 4s are nothing more than a drive-and-flick. His short game is solid and underrated. His lag putting is usually just fine. His short putting, on the other hand?
Like Adam Scott, or Tom Watson in his 40s, Dustin Johnson is a golfer whose ball striking is good enough to make him a threat to win any tournament. It’s just a matter of converting on the green and scoring well. The Cheetah gets from the tee to the green faster and easier than anybody, but can’t slow down and become The Jewel Maker when pure finesse is called for.
That’s usually bad news at Augusta, a course where the greens are more than just challenging. They’re a hazard.
Maybe gamblers are afraid to speculate as to when D.J. might warm up with the putter. He’s 13th in putting on the PGA Tour this year, and 2nd in scoring average. At Pebble Beach, however, he shot 73-73 on Friday and Saturday as the birdies wouldn’t fall. That’s an important result because the only greens players have seen all year that are close to Augusta’s in severity and speed are at Pebble.
Tiger Woods (+1400)
Tiger hasn’t yet won in 2019, but there are a couple of stats that make Woods’ slightly-longer-than-usual line to win intriguing. Tiger is 9th on the PGA Tour in ball-striking, his short game is sharp, and he’s 4th among American pros in GIR, or Greens-in-Regulation.
It’s the new Tiger Woods. He’s not the longest hitter anymore, but he plays within himself, and has actually cured other facets of his game that were historically shaky.
As is the case with Dustin Johnson and a few other top contenders, Tiger’s chances at Augusta will come down to whether his inconsistent putting will peak in efficiency on greens that may vary wildly in speed over 4 tumultuous days.
Justin Rose (+1400)
Rose is missing a ton of greens and making a lot of birdies to make up for it. Making lots of birdies at Augusta National is great. A big part of winning the tournament is going low on at least 1 or 2 days out of 4, since The Masters is not often won with a (+1) or (-3) score as the U.S. Open or a windy and cold Open Championship might be.
Players have a better chance to recover around the green at the Anywhere in Spain Open than at a Augusta. Rose must improve his short irons or miss the cut on Friday. That’s a tall order in short order and makes his real chances to win much longer than (+1400).
He’s only a good weekend bet if he’s 3 or 4 shots behind after 2 rounds. Players who are 3 or 4 shots behind after 2 rounds tend to be overlooked unless their names are Rory, Phil, or Tiger.
Suppose Rose draws the short straw with his tee time on Friday, given the weather conditions. He’s +2 and the leaders are -3 or -4. He’s still in the championship…but don’t expect the Associated Press to mention him in a recap. Out of sight, out of mind, and out of the betting public’s mind too. At that point I would expect the Brit’s odds to run long and offer a much more sensible wager than 14/1.
Jon Rahm (+1800)
Rahm is absolutely striping the driver. The Spaniard’s shots-gained off the tee are rated 2nd on the PGA Tour behind Rory at #1, and his average knock of 305+ yards (counting lay-ups and iron shots on tiny Par 4s) could come in very handy at Augusta. Especially with wet fairways killing the short hitters.
Distance and accuracy go hand-in-hand off Augusta’s tee boxes. Old-time pros used to call the woods to the left of the 8th hole “The Delta Airlines Ticket Counter,” because if you went into them, you were on your way out of the championship.
What’s more, if Rahm is often poised nice and peachy on the shaved grass 100 to 150 yards away, those are the kind of approach-shot scenarios that can make putting at Augusta easier by allowing the player to steer the ball into a safe position below the hole. He won’t have to gain as many strokes on the green if he’s already gained a lot on the field just getting there.
Justin Thomas (+1800)
The still-youthful University of Alabama product has been knocking on the door. He finished 2nd in the 2019 Genesis Open (emceed by Phil Collins, of course…just kidding) and 3rd in another pair of tournaments. His FedEx Cup standing is Top 10.
Thomas might be the most impressive iron player on Tour right now considering that his beautiful approaches aren’t set up by the kind of towering drives that have characterized so many champions at Augusta.
A consistent 4 days could win this year’s tournament considering that rain and wind could ravage the course late in the week and through Sunday. Look for Thomas in the “sweet spot” – trailing by 3-5 strokes headed into Saturday or even the final round with a betting line to match.
Brooks Koepka (+2000)
This golfer’s line is badly mispriced at the moment and could remain so even if he gets off to a decent start over 36 holes.
It’s not just about the Tiger-slaying glory of last summer. Koepka has already won in 2019, and finished 2nd at the Honda Classic. The reason he’s at 20-to-1 is his lack of impressive “strokes gained” stats, but the most important stats of all include eagles, birdies, and scoring average…and Koepka is killing it in all 3 of those categories.
He could be like Lee Trevino, undervalued by gamblers for the entire early stretch of his career due to unorthodox methods. Right now is the time to take advantage.
I know it’s hard when Tiger and Rory can be so captivating, but keep an eye out for bargain lines on “boring” Brooks to rule the weekend and put on the Green Jacket.
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.